Wake Up Call for Parents

Adapted from an original post written by Maria Fuller of www.EmpoweredGirlApp.com

Social media and the news have reported stories of the radical “Momo-Challenge” which has supposedly infiltrated even YouTube’s own children’s channel. This, coupled with 3rd parties taking child cartoons like Peppa-Pig and turning them into horror shows that children are stumbling upon suggesting suicide and violence, has many parents rightfully worried.

These videos have also shown up on popular video games played by children such as Roblox and Fortnite.

A few news sources as well as Snopes are declaring these stories are false and only going viral because of fear-mongering and parental sharing. However, several people are sharing actual clips online showing these exact videos and more – not just the image of Momo.

Regardless of whether or not the challenge is real, we know that there are instances of inappropriate content including pornography, and dangerous and hypersexualized children occurring on YouTube (yes, not just in the underground dark world of child pedophile sites).

This is an opportunity and wake-up call for parents to be more vigilant with their children’s online experiences. The following are some resources and information to empower you as a parent to take the precautions you feel are right to protect your child.

After our awareness was raised, my husband and I decided to tighten up our internet security and restrictions here at home. Experiences such as these are great reminders to us to pause and re-evaluate how we are monitoring our family’s technology use and decide if we need to make adjustments or not.

So if this sounds like something you want to consider too, let’s get started!

First, I think it’s important for parents to understand how Youtube works. Know there is not much filtering, even in the children’s restricted app.

If you log into YouTube Kids you can block certain channels. For instance, you can choose to just watch the PBS station that has shows produced by only PBS which is relatively safe and we know would be good content.

The videos there are fine, but if you are using a free account which still shows ads there’s a chance that the ads may contain unwanted content. This content has been snuck into the middle of advertisements which is how the “bad guys” have infiltrated YouTube Kids.

YouTube does not view or screen every single video or ad submitted. It’s up to the viewers to flag inappropriate content which they state inside the directions on how to use the parental controls in YouTube Kids which you can view here.

If you choose to purchase a plan that removes the ads then there is a good chance that by removing the ads and selectively curating specific channels for your child to watch that the content should be safe.

Looking at the general YouTube channel, users are able to upload any videos they wish. Now, if they go against the user’s terms and guidelines then the videos can be removed and potentially the user banned but the only way this happens is if the video is reported and flagged.

This can take up to 12 hours for the video to be reviewed and removed by a moderator and there have been several reported instances of inappropriate content being flagged repeatedly by parents and not being addressed for several months by YouTube.

In fact in a press release last year, YouTube vowed to hire more people over the next few years to try and screen a higher number of videos; they acknowledge they can’t address it all fast enough.

If the perpetrator’s account is banned there is nothing stopping them from opening another account and creating problems again. The same goes for ads uploaded to YouTube.

There isn’t a human screening and monitoring every advertisement uploaded into the platform. So while you can pay for a “no ads” account on the main YouTube channel, you still can’t filter out inappropriate content and videos.

The best situation is to only allow access to YouTube Kids in your home on a paid account that removes ads and then using the parental controls carefully curate a list of channels that you approve your child to watch.

In addition, monitor visually what your child is watching by occasionally checking what your child is viewing to make sure you approve.

More importantly, discuss what kind of content is appropriate with your child and be sure your child feels comfortable communicating with you when he/she views something inappropriate. Finally, get details on how she or he arrived there in the first place so you can attempt to avoid it again in the future.

So how do you protect your children from Googling words that may have piqued their interest (sex, porn, sexting, cutting, etc) without having to have “that” conversation at the dinner table every night?

Well this can be tricky but the good news is that there are some amazing companies creating 3rd party software to help parents:

  • Regulate and monitor content
  • Filter and block inappropriate content
  • Control how much time is spent on screens
  • Track how much time is spent on screens and on which activity
  • Shut down wifi at designated hours
  • And more!

Have you heard my recent podcast episode where I interviewed Dr. Colleen Carroll, a leading researcher and advocate for families dealing with childhood screen obsession? She helps parents not only moderate their child’s screen time and usage but TEACHES them how to use screen time appropriately!

In this episode, you’ll hear us discuss the biological and psychological effects of too much screen time for kids, plus what you can actually DO (now) about minimizing screen time at home.

It’s a really great conversation – go check out the podcast interview HERE.

OK, so you want to protect your child from accessing inappropriate content and you want to moderate screen time.

I personally don’t want to babysit and monitor my kids’ online activity constantly! It’s unrealistic, and I obviously don’t have the time, but I want to block some content, selectively give them access to the good stuff, and I want to know what they are doing online.

For parents of children, ‘tweens and teens on screens (that’s you), including if they own a smartphone, I recently learned about this software called Bark (CLICK HERE)

Bark is a parental control application software system. What I LOOOOOOOVE about Bark is that this software screens the content your child is viewing, the stuff she is writing and the people/applications being connected with through the devices.

ALL of them. (Yup that means tablets, smartphones, laptops, desk tops, chromebooks, etc, etc, etc)

It connects to 24 platforms to monitor text messages, emails, and social activity for signs of harmful interactions and content. You get automatic alerts via email and text when Bark’s algorithms detect potential risks, so you don’t have to comb through your child’s every post and text!

Then the alert comes with information and expert recommendations to make it easy for parents to talk to kids about digital dangers and other sensitive online issues (HUGELY helpful!).

PLUS, they have a very active Facebook support group you can join when you sign up.

So far as per their website they have prevented 16 school shootings and 10 THOUSAND severe self-harm situations.

Scary and amazing at the same time!

As a parent myself these are things we ALL worry about and it makes me feel good that there are companies out there creating software to empower us as parents to keep our children safe!

I highly recommend you take some time to really evaluate your child’s technology and social media situation and ask yourself, “What can I do better here? Where do I need to improve, tighten boundaries and re-evaluate?”

Note that as your child gets older each year, this will change and you’ll need to revisit this topic.

Listen, if you have just handed your child an iPad with no restrictions, this post is NOT about shaming.

This is about providing you with information to look at how you are currently overseeing technology use in your family and taking a conscious pause to think now that you have this new information.

This is connected to the foundation of my work – asking really good questions and teaching our girls to ask themselves the same.

We need to look at how we are doing or thinking about things and then asking ourselves if we want to continue this way, or knowing what we know now, do we want to make a shift? The choice is ours 🙂

If you are interested in learning more about safe online fun and learning for your daughter, check out www.EmpoweredGirlApp.com.